Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Employer Power and Personal Conduct

Its been quite a week, and its only Wednesday morning. A few months ago I was asked to co-present a seminar on hiring and selection at the Christian Leadership Conference going on right now in Dallas. The pre-conference session was Monday, and we were planning a reduction in force for Tuesday. We worked late Friday getting all the details together, I put my presentation together Saturday, flew out Sunday and met with my co-presenters Sunday night to put our respective pieces together, presented on Monday, and flew out that same night to execute the reduction in force Tuesday morning.

At the seminar I found myself annoyed and uneasy as to the nature of many of the questions from the audience. These were managers or HR administrators in non-profits and churches, and they were interested in Thomas Nelson's policies. I don't think half the crowd liked my answers any more than I liked their questions:

Q: Do you have to be a Christian to be hired at Thomas Nelson?
A: No

Q: Do you have a policy on chastity for unmarried staff?
A: No

Q: Do you fire Gays and Lesbians if they won't repent and convert?
A: No

Q: Do you fire co-habitating couples?
A: No

One attorney and HR VP for a major ministry said in an open-discussion segment near the end of the day, "our table doesn't like much of what we heard today". Well, ditto for the presenter dude.

I was waiting for my car when I ran into Greg Steilstra, former Nelson marketing VP and there to conduct his own seminar on pyro-marketing. I hadn't seen Greg in over a year, and we were on the same plane so I offered him a ride. I shared some of my concerns over what I'd heard, and over the next two hours we shared the ride, dinner and a couple of beers, and discussed grace-based vs. doctrinal theology, forgiveness vs. judgmental behavior, "Christian" as market segmentation for often inferior products, and caught up on our families. I really appreciated our time together and his intellect and it stood in stark contrast to the caliber of discussion in my seminar.

Once on the plane our seats were far apart, but it just so happens that I was seated next to and met Jonathan Pitts, Road Manager for Christian artist Anthony Evans who recently performed at our 3:16 event during the Women of Faith national conference in San Antonio. I never got my iPod-induced nap on the plane, because we spent the whole trip discussing the Christian music business, his desire to further his education (he's 28 and wants to pursue a Masters in Christian Counseling), 20-something workers and that generation's emphasis on tolerance, and again this was a stark contrast to the discourse in Dallas.

I've wondered, aside from our reduction in force, why its been difficult to sleep lately. Last night this post finally gelled for me: my uneasiness with the seminar questions came from the combination of legalism, judgmentalism, and the same myopic view of the world that we've seen in Christian publishing. In the non-profit Christian world, just like in many churches and parts of our industry, the price of admission is to look and think and agree with those in leadership. More to the point:

1. The questions I received were all about sex. There were no questions on our policy regarding gluttony or greed or envy; the only deadly sin that matters apparently is lust and the other six are acceptable human foibles.

2. The stories I heard in the seminar about people fired for violation of personal conduct policies were all young people, and the attendees were all boomers (like me) or older. This was, in essence, the abuse of the power to hire and fire as a means of controlling the off-hours sexual conduct of younger, lower-ranking staff members.

3. The position of these organizations is that organizations without similarly narrow views are un-Christian, soft on sin, not-as-holy, etc... Nelson's competitors have for years used as a competitive talking point that they were more holy. Said in Christian love I'm sure...

Yesterday I sat in on several termination conversations. In the first one the gentleman we terminated asked if he could lead those two of us firing him in prayer...for us and the hard work we had to do that day. Another man came to my office to ask a question about his package, but also to tell me that he'll be just fine, that "nothing passes into our lives that hasn't passed through God's hands". Overnight I've received about 30 emails from those leaving, and more than half are positive, encouraging me for what they feel must be a hard task for me; remember, these people just lost a job in a tough economy, and their worried about me?

So to our brothers and sister in non-profits, and to our competitors, let me say that our policy of not excluding people who are sinners (for to do so would leave us an empty building) has rendered a workforce with great heart, commitment to our mission, and who largely embody the ideals of what it means to live a Christian life. I don't anticipate our policies changing anytime soon.


Scott said...

Amen brother, amen. said...

Thanks for sharing and giving us some insight into you, your role and your company.